My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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the mourning after

I voted in SF before heading to LA to watch the returns with Justin, Mary, Barlow and Friendz. As the night progressed, depressing returns made it hard to engage. I watched Jon Stewart instead.

I went to USC where i ended up in an intersection with ecstatic Bush/Cheney fans celebrating. Onlookers hung their heads or scowled at their audacity, shocked at their value system. I just started crying. I boarded the plane which was on its second leg with folks from Ohio, Move On folks were on board, somber.

DNA sampling deteriorating innocence until proven guilty, institutionalized homophobia, a country divided. This land is not my land. The free are no longer home here and what does braveness have to do with war?

My friend Jo Guldi sent the following to me this morning. I thought it would be good to share.

In one of those sunset-rosy history-channel specials, the imperially-jawed Simon Schama says that in the 1930s the British could see the specter of history stalking among them like a wooly mammoth, parading down the streets of London, as soldiers and civilians blinked and realized that their world had changed.

The fairy-tale beast doesn’t belong among most Americans. Maybe some people always know what this beast of history is. Children of immigrants and journalists, children of politicians, children born in revolutions or depressions have prescient intuitions of change as children born in leafy suburbs never do.

I saw the beast of history for the first time last night. It was slinking through our electric city of San Francisco, marking the doors of hipsters and intellectuals with ram’s blood.

They didn?t know it; by morning many of them were back to talking about ideals that had to come true, even if it takes a hundred years: gay marriage, a multiple party system. No, my darling angel-haired idealists, those days are over. Your parents and grandparents fought for pluralism and civil rights. Your own children will inevitably be able to marry their gay lovers. But this is not the time. What passed in front of us was ever so much more complicated.

Hold on for a moment and tell yourself that you’re still in the same world. The slant of light across the electric stove where my teakettle sits will return tomorrow. The bad man in the white house can’t do that much, even in another four years.

But what happened last night was that the last feather of hope floated away. The last soft imagination that we had just enough consensus in this country to fix the forces that are pulling us apart, gone. Common sense isn’t going to triumph over sentimentality and melodrama. Neither security nor intelligence nor welfare are going to be fixed; all will be handed over to the security billionaires of San Diego and the economists in the pay of DC.

Do you remember the towers going down? The freshmen in college this year don’t; they were fourteen and barely paying attention. But in the cities, the urban youth in their twenties and thirties remember wondering what had happened, remember waking and getting a cup of coffee and first seeing the frozen looks on the faces of strangers, then the terrible faces, then the reports and months of analysis. Something had started then that wouldn’t finish for a long time.

And yet for those years there was a possibility of it turning into something else, less destructive; a chance to reach across the aisle to the other party, a chance to reconnect across America, a chance to reapproach the problems of global poverty that lead people in strange lands to become terrorists; a chance to reaccount Israel: all of this was possible.

But for four years none of these rifts of possibility turned out anything better than the grim world from which they had come. And still, resentment and anger and hope brewed across the country. Watching from the coasts, we were convinced by the Michael Moores and Deaniacs and the force of our deepest desires that something could be done.

But I assure you that it cannot, now. Not after the dark noises I heard winding through the streets last night. On the West Coast we watched as polls closed in waves, the shadow of night spreading across the country, until we in California should have been the last. As the lines continued to stand in Florida and Ohio, as newscasters measured the possibility of any Democratic chance remaining. But it was too late to influence anything. We sat around with glasses of Cabernet in a warehouse by the ocean, watching DC and New York reporting on New Mexico and Oregon, feeling horribly like it was too late. Now neither the church, nor ideology, nor science, nor economics, nor foreign policy, nor pressure, nor hope, nor organization could save us. No angry Marxist professors, no brilliant editorials in the Times could reach what needed to be reached.

The beast of history is in. Lovers in each others’ arms, wake up and look. Poets and anarchists, put down your pens. Stop all the clocks, put down the indy rock music, stop reading psychology. Move to Vancouver or Paris. Get a degree in political science or advertising or business. Because whatever we were doing isn’t working, and the deadline is past. If there were a practical way to build something out of what has happened, we’d turn to that, but the moderate conservatives have already been exiled from Washington, and none of our friends will have influence for a long time yet. What has happened is too big for us, too big for our loose ideas of a hundred-year-plan for peace and happiness. There is no more road by which to get there: the storm of the last four years has swept it away, and the wind in the street last night blew out our last bridge to safety.

All day long I had been praying, calming myself with old psalms about how the universe was all one, how God had made it, all of its corners and controversies, how providence would follow us all the way through the shadow of darkness. When I woke up this morning the only psalm I could remember was this one: Lord teach my fingers to make battle, and my hands to make war.

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25 comments to the mourning after

  • stef

    now you understand why hemmingway and the expatriates felt when they left for paris.

    spoke to some friends about moving to toronto or montreal; difficult to do. my friend liz (not lawley) spoke of moving to greece; i think this quote that she attaches to each email relates to the feeling of being in a country that no longer is a country one wants to live in.

    “The greatest single impression which Greece made upon me is that it is a man-sized world. Now it is true that France also conveys this impression, and yet there is a difference, a difference which is profound. Greece is the home of the gods; they may have died but their presence still makes itself felt. The gods were of human proportion: they were created out of the human spirit. In France, as elsewhere in the Western world, this link between the human and the divine is broken. The scepticism and paralysis produced by this schism in the very nature of man provides the clue to the inevitable destruction of our present civilization. If men cease to believe they will one day become gods then they will surely become worms. Much has been said about a new order of life destined to arise on this American continent. It should be borne in mind, however, that not even a beginning has been visioned for at least a thousand years to come. The present way of life, which is America’s is doomed as surely as is that of Europe. No nation on earth can possibly give birth to a new order of life until a world view is established. We have learned through bitter mistakes that all the peoples of the earth are vitally connected, but we have not made use of that knowledge in an intelligent way…. The world must become small again as the old Greek world was�small enough to include everybody.”
    From “The Colossus of Maroussi”
    By Henry Miller (1941)

  • This is interesting (albeit melodramatic) stuff. Who is Mr./Ms. Guldi anyway? This election marks the beginning of a new era of anti-intellectualism characterized by events like this . I tend to belong to the voters are stupid school of thought.

    Is my attitude condescending? Perhaps. But at least it admits a solution: a better educated population less willing to accept Bush’s droning.

  • Michael Cross

    Ms. Guldi’s piece is beautifully written and captures some important truths. It may be premature to simply run from the beast, however. Progressives can still work to improve society in non-parliamentary politics -protests, local initiatives, etc.
    More difficult, the left needs to study the lessons of this election. Where was the most reliably Democratic vote found? African-Americans and labor unionists still strongly supported the party. How can that base be expanded without “moving to the center,” that euphemism for selling out?

  • I completely disagree with the melodramatic dropping of hands. Now is the time to really make an effort, to try and understand what has happened and what is happening, to figure out WHY people voted for Bush and what were their expectations. The democratic political machine has made great strides in the last couple of years to get the disparate party together and to try and re-asses mistaked and problems. What this experience has shown, is that the liberal, the left, the democrats, the intellectuals and others have simply a lot more work to do. The problems in this country are profound, but it is appaling to see statements like – the world is over. There is not time like right now, when action not dispaire is needed. Understanding not shock at someone elses value system that is unlike yours is necessary.

    what this election has shown is that the split in this country is profound, but the race was close (far closer) in most states than expected. This stands for something. We MUST understand why Bush supporters support him, without the “feeling icky” reaction. There is a lesson here and we better learn it, because it’s certainly not one of dropping hands!

  • Irina – read the last line. “Lord teach my fingers to make battle, and my hands to make war.”

    She’s saying that nothing can be done about last nite. Furthermore, our current modes aren’t working and we must find new ones. The bridges that we need aren’t built. We must find new approaches. It is time to retrain ourselves, to figure out how to fight this battle on a different level.

    I’d also like you to reconsider your use of the term melodrama. Definition: “A composition, in prose or poetry, accommodated to action, and intended to exhibit a picture of human life, or to depict a series of grave or humorous actions of more than ordinary interest, tending toward some striking result. It is commonly designed to be spoken and represented by actors on the stage.”

  • jake

    I am a foreigner and should not be even commentating on your election. You lost and I am gutted. But, the things you believe in do not demand a majority in a Presidential election to validate. Not being too melodramatic! But the darkness has NEVER overcome the light (St John). I’ve loved your blog the past few years. Much love: jake

  • anonymplex

    I cannot help but think of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history:

    “A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

    Lest we forget that fear was packaged, branded, marketed, and sold, in a time of much-manufactured uncertainty. Was this election “winnable” by the Dems? I think so. I have give Kerry his props, as I went from “anyone but Bush” to a Kerry supporter because of his message. Nevertheless, I felt that the Dems. lacked a sharply focused vision, attributable not to a lack of conviction but obeisance to the merchants of spin. The “brand” was trying to be everything to everybody. Listening to Kerry at the DNC on the radio, I grew worried, as I got the quilt-like message but would Ohio?

    As for the future, Kristof makes some good points but it’s just a start. We need to truly understand who are in the 10 regions and (mea culpa) not just relegate many of them to being “flyovers.” We also need to move beyond thinking that everyone who voted for W is an idiot, as tempting as that may be. As for the red/blue, wal*mart/starbucks, urban/rural post, I think I see what you mean but I feel that something is missing. (I fully recognize you weren’t creating a theory or offering up empirics.) Nevertheless, your musings are precisely the basis for better understanding of the intersection of the social, the political, and geographics. Blue/starbucks/urban is more than the relative ease of finding a good Thai restaurant, but what are the meaningful differences across regions?

    On Charlie Rose last week James Naughtie reminded us that during the long Tory rule under Thatcher & Major, Labour refocused, redefined, and reinvented itself (at times, painfully). Now, the shoe is on the other foot with the Tories…and arguably the Dems.

  • Michael

    “Be creative – or die”
    is the title of an article by Richard Florida from 2002 i discovered at which explains the result of this election for me. Firstly the brainwash & deceit campaign of the media was totally effective and people living in the middle of nowhere are living in fear and looking for a strong man. And now they’ve got him. Fahrenheit 9/11 has shown this machine too well. Reminds one of the Germany of the early thirties and its Propaganda machine. And it will be a big surprise when those people wake up one day to recognise that they have been betrayed, while others were stuffing their pockets – a bill their children will have to pay. One day the truth about this infamous Administration will be unearthed. Because it always is. Remember Nixon (BoingBoing).

    OK, back to the article. You can guess that those people are against change. Their Jobs, their future everything has started to crumble and their is no recipe for recovery because the party is o-ver! A truth they probably haven’t yet realised or refused to realise. Their jobs and security will never come back. So the shift from an industrial to a knowledge society, or whatever one wants to call it, has been quite bumpy for them …
    As this article states more and more people earn money by being creative. They are an important factor in economic growth. Look at Boston or SF. 50% of Silicon Valley companies are run by (creative) emigrants from India, Russia and other places. Florida calls them the “creative class”. As are musicians, designers, IT workers, scientists bla. The products are built in China needless to say – but they are conceived and designed by a few designers in the West.

    My theory uses the three T’s: technology, talent and tolerance. You need to have a strong technology base, such as a research university and investment in technology. That alone is a necessary but not in itself sufficient condition. Second, you need to be a place that attracts and retains talent, that has the lifestyle options, the excitement, the energy, the stimulation, that talented, creative people need. And thirdly, you need to be tolerant of diversity so you can attract all sorts of people — foreign-born people, immigrants, woman as well as men, gays as well as straights, people who look different and have different appearances.

    Those creative people want to live in a inspiring creative society; a hip neighbourhood with an art scene, gay friendly & culturally diverse. They are flexible and rather choose a cool city or country to move to then to give their job priority. To make a long story short: Simply those cities will survive in the long term that provide an atmosphere where this culture is alive. So people that feel constricted in less tolerant places (without a future) will leave those cities (or countries) to where they are accepted and live the life they want to. For a long time this has been the US.
    (When i went to SF in July my Passport was stamped by the “U.S. Emigration”, when i returned in September i was welcomed by the “U.S. Customs and Border Protection”. Swiftly and without much public attention they changed a legacy that had lasted for probably 200 years?. It goes without saying that the perfidy in Airport security was unprecedented. Welcome.)

    So in the long term places that provide the culture for creative jobs will succeed. And this wont happen anywhere near those dull & dying places full of hypocrisy and religious frenzy. So they will get the bill, just a few years later.

    Of course that also means that now bright people will leave the US to live at other places – something Florida warns about. Like New Zealand, Europe, Canada. (The induce_act and other measures to cripple the internet will even accelerate that. IMHO) Google for Richard Florida, there are a few articles available. To me this all makes complete sense.

    BTW: Stef, you wouldn’t want to live in Greece, not really. Well, Athens maybe. Its a wonderful place to visit – but living in a small town is hell. Small towns are ultra orthodox, anti-American (they must still remember the US support for their dictatorship) and narrow minded. On 9/11 many were cheering at places in Greece, believe it or not! Why do you think 8 Million Greeks are living abroad? The Greece of Henry Miller doesn’t exist any more. (ok, i admit i am polemic.)

  • Is the US really a nation polarised?

    The US is not divided between warring red and blue states – it’s just the idiotic electoral college and its all or nothing state-based counting mechanism that makes it feel that way.

  • David Fernandes

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful lines; almost a prayer.
    I moved out from Paris to the US for the very same reason invoked in these lines. Strange no?
    Moving is what’s important to get a sense of reality; a sense of perspective. I’m not sure the direction really matters.

    A reminder about gay marriages in France:
    (that was five months ago I think)

    “Noel Mamere officiated at the civil marriage ceremony of two men in the south-western town of Begles, near Bordeaux.
    One hour after the ceremony, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said he had begun disciplinary proceedings against Mr Mamere.
    Prime Minister said he believes the ceremony was null and void.”

  • “…to figure out WHY people voted for Bush…”

    Maybe because the only people who voted for Kerry did so because they hated Bush, not because they actually approved of his platform. When picking between Evil and Evil, some people are more comfortable with the Evil they already know. Really, could they have picked a worse candidate than a Mr. Ed look alike?

    My Canadian husband (I’m American) turns to me after Bush’s win was official and says, “Well, at least our dollar will continue to go up.” In fact, the Canadian dollar went up $.01 the day after the election.

  • Melodrama – a play full of suspense and sensational, emotional content. Melodramatic – something that resembles the former in life. My point it that yesterday, more than ever, the state of this country was painted as aweful, horrible – the age of innocense is lost. I guess everything is known in comparison. I personally don’t think the state of this country is really that aweful (and has instantly dramatically changed for the worst yesterday). The fact that this blog and many others that are more radical can exist is a testament to that on many levels. Yes the other team won this time so this team has to regroup. I disagree with the imagery of nazism and, curiously enough, I’ve seen exactly the same comparison of Britain in the face of Nazism and our current situation, given as arguments for why people should vote for Bush. I do not think either is actually a relevant comparison, but… both are melodaramatic.

  • David Fernandes

    To add to your point Irina, people referring to Nazism should be much more careful with their choice of word. If Bush policy started to be even remotely close to any extremist doctrine it would be fascism, certainly not Nazism.
    In any case both would be impossible in this country. Anyone who studied German or Italian history knows that.

    Some said recently that Americans somehow “made the wrong choice”. There are no such thing has a wrong choice. That’s what democracy is about; One voice, one vote. We might not agree with the choice. The choice can even not be the smartest one from an historical point of view for the whole country but no one has the right to place himself above the people and say “that was wrong”; By essence; it is right.

  • EsmeV

    Goodness! Just move to Europe. A lot of Americans live here and prefer it that way.

  • Erica

    I am not American and should not be making comments, but I ran from the beast myself, I left my country, so I can relate to the piece – which was beautifully written in my opinion. After 6 yrs, I see things from the outside much better. I don’t preach the dropping of hands, I believe you can still contribute from the outside, trying to promote change in a variety of ways. This is my way of making battle with my fingers and war with my hands.

    As for the melodrama – whatever writing style that gets the message across is worth it and there should be more emotion in the world anyway, more passion in articles like this one. Maybe that is why changes are not happening, too many heads, not enough souls engaged in the change.

  • I don’t mean to slight Jo in any way, but there is another perspective worth considering:

    “There is a divide in this country today, miles wide and fathoms deep. It has cleaved our great nation, and has only grown – and will only continue to grow. But it’s not a left/right split, or Democrat/Republican one. It’s lunatic/non-lunatic.

    Our culture has been swept along in a tide of emotionally-resonant, steadfastly anti-rational entertainment, and politics is at the head of the wave. The course of our country, the future of our people, is being determined by lizard-brain responses to images designed to trigger sub-rational responses.”

    (Greg Knauss, via Waxy)

    So what Michael Moore achieves has to be weighed against the consequences – encouraging people to enjoy a reflexive, cathartic anger, rather than doing the difficult work of trying to think through issues with as little pre-judgement as possible. Our biggest handicap in this race was our deep conviction that we were right, because it blinded us to how to rest of America sees things, and thus made it impossible for us to persuade them.

  • Fabrice

    Despite what have been said by David Fernandes earlier, there is an equivalent to marriage called PACS available to homosexuals in France, it offers the same protections, the same fiscal advantage and is basicaly the same thing with two exceptions :
    1) it’s not called a marriage
    2) it doesn’t take place in a city hall but in a lower class administrative bureau
    My guess is that marriage will be available for gays in Europe within the next 5 years, since they’re no Christian coalition here 😉
    Recently, an italian European Union official who declared that homosexuality was a sin got fire from the European commission just for saying so. Here in Europe, an especialy in France, Jesus, Jehova, God or Allah are totaly banned from politics and we sure intend to keep it this way.

    For all of you americans who wonder what to do now, France is a nice place for immigration, there’s already plenty of americans here and even if Bush is totaly hated, openly democratic americans are sure to be welcomed.

    Regards form France 🙂

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    Thursday I woke up wanting our Republic back.

    This afternoon, I’m pretty sure if we stand and fight, we can take it back.

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  • Lyn

    I woke up on Wednesday the 3rd feeling not depressed, but very worried. And it’s not a new feeling. I’ve now grown accustomed to living with a constant worry about the direction the U.S. (at least) is taking. All those apocalytic sci-fi books and movies, along with a historical perspective and a keen sense of what horror humans are capable of inflicting upon one another, are combined inside me to create an underlying, ever-present fear of what is to come. Especially for my 11 year old son. Not that I don’t have any hope, but I don’t remember LIVING with this worry the way I do now. How many of us live like this now, and don’t even remember what it was like to not?

    When I see references to battle and war made by folks in my camp, I worry even more.

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